Division in international boxing: A coup as a rescue attempt

With German help, a new world boxing association is set up. The IBA, which is responsible for Olympic boxing, is headed by Putin’s friend Umar Kremlev.

blurred shot of a boxing match

Unclear: How Olympic and Russian will international boxing look in the future Photo: imago

The split is taking shape. On Thursday, a group of national federations announced plans to create a new world boxing federation, dubbed World Boxing. “Olympic-style amateur boxing is on the verge of being eliminated from the Olympics,” said USA Boxing President Tyson Lee, who is on the interim board of directors of the new organization. In addition to the USA, supporters of this new foundation include associations from England, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. Michael Müller, the sports director of the German Boxing Association (DBV), sits on the interim executive committee.

The federation previously responsible for Olympic boxing, the International Boxing Association (IBA), reacted promptly. He spoke of a “coup” and threatened those involved with claims for damages and the exclusion of the national associations. “As in any well-organized organization, there are mechanisms in place to protect the organization, its members and ultimately the athletes.”

The Olympic future is the one question troubling the international boxing community. Most recently, however, the IBA’s dealings with Russian and Belarusian athletes had a divisive effect that cannot be separated from this question. Even before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently issued the controversial recommendation to end the ban on these athletes with restrictions, the IBA set a very idiosyncratic course.

At the women’s world championships in India in March, Russians and Belarusians were allowed to box unconditionally. Their flags were waved and the anthems played. That’s why boxers from Poland, Germany, the USA and a number of other countries stayed away from the high point of this sporting year. However, the IBA’s willingness to be inclusive has its limits. The Ukrainian federation was suspended last year. Political influence on the part of the state was criticized there.

President thanks to a Russian state company

The attitude of the IBA comes as no surprise, given that in December 2020 the association, in financial distress, elected the Russian Umar Kremlev, a close confidante of President Vladimir Putin, who repaid the debt of 16 million dollars with the help of the state-owned company Gazprom and united Majority of the 204 national federations made compliant with lavish transfers and prize money.

Internal opponents who wanted to lead the world association out of Russian state dependence, such as the Dutchman Boris van der Vorst, fell through the integrity check shortly before the 2022 presidential election, which is why Kremlev remained the only candidate and was re-elected. After the Court of Arbitration for Sport castigated this as illegal, the IBA voted on whether the election should be held again. The majority opposed it.

The IOC has openly expressed its unease about this leadership style. The IBA and its predecessor organization AIBA have not worked the way the umbrella organization imagines for a long time. Corruption, fraud and postponed matches were common at the Olympics. Even before the Kremlin era, the IOC withdrew the organization of the 2021 Olympic boxing tournament in Tokyo from the professional association and took matters into its own hands. This will also be the case in Paris in 2024. Boxing has not yet been included in the Olympic program for the 2028 games in Los Angeles.

The creation of World Boxing is a last-ditch effort to preserve the Olympic perspective. The IBA said on Thursday that “the road to our Olympic recognition was nothing more than a predetermined dead end”. The lack of recognition of one’s own reforms is “unacceptable”. The accusation was obviously addressed to the IOC.

The founders of the new association hope for a better relationship with the IOC. World Boxing wants to operate with a budget of 900,000 euros this year. This was announced by interim general secretary Simon Toulson from England. Elections for a president and a new board of directors are planned for November.

It is foreseeable that the Russian war of aggression will increase the forces of division in international sport. The special conditions in the Olympic amateur boxing sector exacerbate the problem. Incidentally, on Thursday the IBA also asked the IOC to withdraw the qualification status for the Olympic Games from the European Games in Poland (June 21 to July 2). The organizers’ decision not to let Russians and Belarusians take part is destroying their chances at the Olympics.

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